How reliable are your manufacturing processes? Do you meet design specifications every time, or just some of the time? Manufacturers need reliable, repeatable production processes to ensure part quality and consistency. Material selection is important, but the way a part is made can also affects its physical properties. That’s true with forged steel and with the 3D printing of aluminum parts.
The Problem of Part Quality
3D printing or additive manufacturing isn’t new, but processes like forging are more familiar to most part manufacturers. When a metal part is made with 3D printing, its microstructure is different than if it had been made with traditional methods. Moreover, the microstructure of a metal part made with one 3D printer may not be the same as that of a metal part made with a different 3D printer.
For part manufacturers then, the decision to use 3D printing for more than just prototyping could affect part quality. Additive manufacturers may perfect their own production processes, but what happens when it’s time to change or upgrade equipment? If metal parts made by a new 3D printer are microstructurally different than parts made with an old 3D printer, will quality suffer? These questions are important to all of your customers – especially military buyers.
DARPA Seeks a Solution
In the United States, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is addressing this challenge. The agency hopes its findings will help U.S. manufacturers while speeding the adoption of 3D printing and strengthening the military supply chain. Recently, this Department of Defense (DoD) agency announced an Open Manufacturing program to create comprehensive reference documentation for 3D printing, including both the physics and the process parameters.
Specifically, DARPA will target additive manufacturing processes that use nickel and titanium. The agency will also focus upon bonded composite structures. By partnering with Penn State University and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, DARPA will leverage the power of multiple testing centers to generate reference materials that can provide more manufacturers – and their customers – with confidence in the quality of 3D printed parts.
India’s Defense Industrial Base
Historically, American military might has been powered by breakthroughs in materials manufacturing. Radar absorbent materials used on Stealth aircraft provide one such example. As India celebrates the anniversary of its independence and continues to strengthen its defense industrial base, leaders from the public and private sectors must develop and adopt 3D printing standards. By increasing manufacturing predictability, Indian companies will compete, deliver, and prosper as the Additive Manufacturing Revolution grows.
Steve Melito is an award-winning content developer specializing in manufacturing, material science, and homeland security. He is the founder and owner of Thunderbolt Business Services, a content development agency with clients and partners in North America, Europe, and Asia. Today, Steve’s clients include small-to-medium (SME) manufacturers and several defense industry magazines. A graduate of Colgate and Southern Methodist University, his connections to the Indian marketplace include Defense and Security (DSA) Magazine of New Delhi.